Too Young for a Makeover?

Dear Mamas,

My daughter is about to turn 9 and we’re busy planning a fantastic birthday party. Jordyn loves to get into my cosmetics collection and try out different ‘looks’, so we thought it would be fun to book a local salon and a make-up artist to do mini makeovers for her and her friends.

The problem is that I mentioned it to my friend Kelly, who’s also the mom of my daughter’s best friend, and she hit the roof. Kelly thinks 9 is way too young to wear make-up, even at a birthday, and objects to her daughter coming to a makeover party. I think it’s harmless fun, and just want Jordyn to have the birthday of her dreams. It’s not like I’d want her to wear make-up to school, or anything. What should I do?


Dear Wendy,

It’s tough raising girls in our grow-up-fast world, and you bring up a few important issues in your question. Most of us moms have great childhood memories of playing ‘dress-up’ in our mother’s fancy dresses and spiky high heels, and completing the look with careful smears of her lipstick, but that’s not really what you’re describing here.

A makeover party in a salon speaks to the desire all kids have to appear grown-up before their time. It combines the make believe adult role play that little girls love with the reality of professionally applied make-up and hairstyles. It sends a pretty clear message that this is what girls and women do to be attractive to men and have a place in the world. And that this is what is necessary to be ‘beautiful’.

I’d guess that as you read this you’re thinking “No way! That’s not what I had in mind at all.” I’m sure it’s not. You (and Jordyn) were most likely picturing how cute it would be to have her and her friends get all dolled up and looking like the teens they can’t wait to be. I get it, but it’s problematic.

There IS a rush in our culture to sexualize little girls and grant them early access to our mating rituals. Kiddie beauty pageants, young performers, and even the neighborhood dance academy all seem to be going for that sex kitten bombshell look, have you noticed? As mothers, we need to counter that and battle against it because who else will?

I understand your friend Kelly’s concern. Yes, it’s just a birthday party, but she doesn’t want to condone all that stuff and that’s how it seems to her. She may not be the only mom who feels that way. On the other hand, you don’t want to disappoint Jordyn and you don’t see any harm in it. How about a compromise?

Instead of calling it a ‘makeover party’, how about a ‘crazy hair and make-up party’? Instruct the hair and make-up artists to create fun wild and wacky styles. Think outrageous theater rather than beauty school. Take lots of photos and put the emphasis on fun, not fashion. You’ll have the girls thinking outside the box and having the fantasy time of their lives without the harmful cultural stereotypes. You and Kelly may even want some nutty styles of your own.

Good luck and Happy Birthday to Jordyn!

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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3 responses to “Too Young for a Makeover?”

  1. Bonnie

    Great response, Rachel. You not only explained why a beauty makeover at age 9 was not the best idea, but you provided a fantastic compromise that will be a lot of fun.

    I don’t understand how some moms can get caught up in our culture’s race to sexualize their daughters. Perhaps I feel sensitive to this because I knew a teen who kept posters on her wall of Britney Spears and Carmen Electra, both of them topless and with quotes about how expressing one’s sexuality was a manifestation of a woman’s “power”.

    This girl told me she hoped she could become a Playboy Bunny. Her mom said the daughter was just expressing her individuality, but it seemed to me the girl really believed her only worth was in her attractiveness to men. God help her when she gets her first wrinkles.

  2. Sarah

    Right on point Rachel.

    One other idea would to have this party at home and have make-up, hair supplies and dress-up clothes on hand that Jordyn and her friends can use to create their own looks. Or do some “paper bag dramatics” where the girls are split into groups and given a paper bag with wacky and fun costume pieces and props that they have to use to dress each other with and create a little skit or tableau for the rest of the party.

    You might also consider hiring your favorite teenager, babysitter or young neighbor (or two or three) to serve as the make-up artists and hairstylists. It seems a little excessive to be paying salon professionals for a child’s birthday party. You could even have someone on hand as the photographer to take fun polaroids of the girls which they could take home as party favors (or even decorate as an art project during the party).

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have a birthday party that involves make-up and dress-up. I think the key to keeping it age appropriate is to make sure the goal isn’t to have all the girls looking like pageant contestants before they go home.

  3. Ellen Schrier

    Ooohhhh! I love those ideas, Sarah! Thanks for sharing.

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